Applying the anti-vaccine mentality to car seats

Applying the anti vaccine mentality to car seats

What if a big TV station came out with a blockbuster story claiming that infant car seats were implicated in cerebral palsy (CP)? After all, something like 99.7% of babies diagnosed with cerebral palsy had been brought home from the hospital in a car seat. In fact, every single time they went anywhere in a car, they were strapped into them. That’s an impressive number. There has to be some connection!

Imagine video of kids crying piteously as they’re buckled into the wretched contraptions. After all, car seats are restraining and uncomfortable. Kids hate them. But parents have been duped into using the damn things claiming it makes their children safer. Pshaw! How could a baby be safer anywhere other than in its mother’s arms?

Suppose this idea gained traction. Cerebral palsy is a dreadful thing. Why take the risk? Don’t use those nasty old car seats. Besides, don’t you know that the doctors who recommend them are all getting kickbacks from the manufacturers? (Less preposterous than kickbacks from vaccine manufacturers. Far more money in car seats.)

Some Playboy celebrity reality centerfold comes out as the spokesperson against car seats. Suddenly there’s pushback from new parents who want to decide for themselves what the safest way is to transport their precious bundle. Never mind decades of car seat research. They may not be automotive engineers, but their parental gut feelings are good enough. Besides, no automotive engineer ever had to listen to their baby cry whenever she gets strapped in.

Facebook communities emerge where car seat refusal is supported and celebrated as the newest way to keep babies safe. Parents are carefully steered to “research” that hypes the dangers of CP. “Why take unnecessary risks?” becomes their mantra. Because the hype is scary. Parents of kids with CP conspire to sue the car seat manufacturers, because “Someone’s got to pay!” Why did this happen to their child? No one has any good answers and vague discussions about prenatal injury to the brain like, “sometimes these things happen,” is just not good enough.

Of course there’s no plausible connection between car seats and cerebral palsy. But that doesn’t matter. Studies are done to try and prove car seats don’t cause CP, which is technically impossible, since you can’t prove a negative. The anti-carseaters deny that they’re against car seats. They just want “safe” ones: defined as ones that don’t cause cerebral palsy. Do a large double-blind trial: Randomly assign some babies to car seats and some to be held in mom’s arms and see how many in each group develop CP, they cry. It will take nothing less to convince them.

What happens? By and large, nothing much. Most kids don’t develop CP, however they travel in cars. And the vast majority of babies who ride in mom’s arms arrive safely at their destinations. There is a small uptick in infant fatalities that steadily grows as more and more people refuse to use car seats, but not many people take notice. The occasional family is devastated by the loss of a baby in a crash, and vow to tell their story high and wide. They do, but the only minds it changes are the ones that weren’t already made up.

Far-fetched? Sadly, not so much.

Lucy Hornstein is a family physician who blogs at Musings of a Dinosaur, and is the author of Declarations of a Dinosaur: 10 Laws I’ve Learned as a Family Doctor.

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  • JR

    I think the choice in cerebral palsy as an example is odd, since both doctors and parents were convinced that c-sections could prevent cerebral palsy. Its one factor contributing to the high c-section rate.–+ScienceDaily)

    “For over a century it was assumed, without good evidence, that most cases of cerebral palsy were due to low oxygen levels or trauma at birth,” says research leader Emeritus Professor Alastair MacLennan from the University of Adelaide’s Robinson Institute.

    “The simple facts are that over the last 40 years, cesarean rates have increased more than six-fold from 5% to 33% in Australia and in many other countries. However, the incidence of cerebral palsy has remained at 2-2.5 per 1000 births,” he says.

    • Mike Henderson

      The point of the article is to point out that an association is not causation and how easy it is to fool people with superficial reasoning.

      • JR

        I got three vaccines last year: Hep B, tetanus w/whooping cough, and flu. I’m not anti vax.

        I didn’t feel this was a convincing article or a good analogy. Partly because the anti-vax movement was started by a Doctor and backed up by “science” – it was only publisized by a celebrity, it wasn’t their idea.

        Partly because the public was led into false beliefs, by poor science, about Cerebral Palsy … just like we were led into false beliefs about vaccines.

        And last, my state requires children be in car seats/specialized restraints until they are 8 – 12 years old depending on weight. I personally feel that’s overkill.

        But then I’m short enough I don’t fit in many seat belts properly, and I’m of average height.

    • Dr. Drake Ramoray

      The correct response for the increase in C-section rates (at least in the US) is the fear of malpractice and one former Senator, candidate for VP, and candidate for president Mr. John Edwards.

      Court case from 1985. OB/Gyn has never been the same. Most OB’s I know do not perform them because they think it prevents CP, they do them because there is objective evidence of “distress” and their pocket book and license are on the line to the trial lawyers. While a good one, I don’t think your cited study is going to make much difference.

      • JR

        Thank you for the article, it was a good read.

        I know a lot of people who think of birth as something that happens to the baby, rather than a dance between the baby and the mom. So i get that sometimes it’s the baby with a problem that has a tough birth, rather than the birth that gives the baby problems. I think it’s a good thing for perspective parents to know too.

        Back at the time of that case, the common wisdom (and science) of the time said that birth trauma causes cerebral palsy.

        But then I also get that medical decisions need to be based on your personal understanding (under guidance) of risk vs benefit.

  • RuralEMdoc

    I don’t understand the rest of these comments. I thought this article was brilliantly written satire that made me laugh, but also explicitly illustrates the reality of fear mongering that is rampant in our society.

    The sad, but true, part of the article was the end. Small upticks in infant mortality, but no one really takes notice……….

  • CAP1985

    Good lord, people are ridiculous/can’t read/don’t understand sarcasm. This is perfect and spot-on. Only real concern is the inevitable moment when someone uses this as an ACTUAL basis for their “Anti-Cerebral Palsey | Anti-Car Seat Movement”, which you know, given the current state of our country, someone will.

  • flaker

    While I love the sentiment here — if we applied science and statistics to car seats we wouldn’t be using them after age 2 either…

    Face it, people really don’t like science or evidence — they like what makes them ‘feel’ good.

  • myriam

    Yes, Fred, not everybody thinks the same. It started at the dawn of humanity. You can’t make anyone think and decide as you do. Same as the people who think differently than you. And It’s not about to stop. Keep worrying but make sure to “buckle” up before you do so.

  • crella

    What caused autism before vaccines? And what in the vaccine supposedly causes autism? People cried ‘Mercury!’ until it turned out that it hadn’t been in the vaccines since ’92 or so, and that countries whose vaccines have never contained it have the same autism rates as other countries.

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